Why Employees Hate HR – and How You Can Turn this Situation Around

By Norberts Erts, CakeHR 

Human Resources has been called by many names but “employee-friendly” isn’t one of them.

Why do employees resent their HR department so much?  

In a nutshell, most employees think of HR as the police department of the company.

The trope, “Do nothing wrong and you’re fine. Do something wrong and they start asking questions,” applies all too well to the typical relationship between workers and their HR department. 

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As an HR veteran and principal at CakeHR, I present my 12 reasons why workers distrust and resent this “employee-friendly” (sarcasm alert) department , followed by three (3) ways to rectify the situation. 

1. HR protects the company and not the employee

Duality and misrepresentation — HR is often advertised as that “employee-friendly” organization. Unfortunately, most employees don’t see it this way. Instead, they see HR as the executioner bent to follow whatever management bids them to do. It’s the bosses first, company second, employees last.  

2. HR sits miles away

The lack of interaction between HR and employees creates a rift between them. How will HR champion the common good if the team is tucked away in a remote office somewhere, far from the employees they’re supposed to get to know and serve?  

3. HR doesn’t treat humans as humans

Human Resources — the name itself implies that humans are seen as a resource. A utility, like electric or gas. If the company can get it cheaper elsewhere, it goes elsewhere, led by HR. If an employee doesn’t have enough output, HR implements strategies to boost productivity – or worse, finds a replacement. Employees don’t like to be treated as pawns. They want to be treated as human beings. Often, HR doesn’t. 

4. HR threatens employees

I found this post on Reddit: 

“Every single employee must stop whatever trivial actual-work thingy they are doing RIGHT NOW RIGHT AT THIS VERY SECOND and spend an hour listening to this Very Important video about Diversity. It’s COMPULSORY OR ELSE YOU ARE FIRED. And then print out your certificate and display it in your cubicle – IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT WE WILL FIRE YOU BECAUSE IT IS COMPULSORY” 

Every month, HR at Company X sends this memo to staff. While it’s never easy to get employees to “take their medicine” and comply with policy, HR could use more discretion when it comes to communicating directives, particularly mandates. Fear-based motivators will only further build distrust and resentment among the rank and file. 

5. HR is rather incompetent

Employees go to HR for help and guidance but often find HR personnel untrained, inexperienced and unaware. A common complaint is that most HR staffs don’t know what they are doing because they were pulled from another department in the company and are still “learning the ropes.”  

6.  HR emphasizes policies over people

Granted, it’s never easy working in HR. Just imagine being stuck between the wishes of employees and the will of management. It can be a thankless job. Nonetheless, HR staff who consistently pull the policies card just get more flak than respect.

7. HR doesn’t focus on what’s real

Human Resources members often are targets of derision because they tend to be so fanatical about theories and how things should be perfectly executed. Unfortunately, this business-management utopia is not real.  

Yogi Berra famously said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” And that’s the point. Employees are facing harsh realities every day that affect their work and personal lives. When HR begins to see that, I will stop writing posts like this. 

8. HR over-complicates things

I grew up watching my mother, who worked in HR, bring her work home because of the enormous amount of paperwork management demanded. This should not be the case. 

Excessive paperwork and long complex commentaries on simple topics drive a wedge between the employees and HR.

The role of the modern Human Resources rep should be about simplifying the lives of employees and management — thus, making everyone more productive.  

9. HR doesn’t have direct answers

Imagine bringing your car to a mechanic for a repair. You ask him how much it will cost. Instead of saying “It’s $100 plus tax,” he says, “I’ll have to verify that with my manager. It’ll take about 36 hours to get you a rough estimate.”  

How would you feel? Perplexed? Frustrated? Annoyed? Do you think the mechanic has your best interests in mind – or those of the garage? 

Employees feel just as slighted every time they visit HR and find the reps don’t have direct answers to simple questions or easy resolutions to straightforward issues. 

10. HR is not objective and fair

Unfortunately, many HR staff members fail to acknowledge a legitimate employee point of view because the HR rep wants to keep their job, earn a bigger paycheck, or get that next promotion. Fair or not, HR is also perceived as supporting the managers over employees, regardless of the issue – or compelling evidence, otherwise. 

11. HR is too involved in office politics

HR has a tarnished reputation of sucking up to executives and “sticking it” to employees. In addition to their lack of objectivity in handling issues, HR has been known to make their dealings with employees political. Conventional wisdom has long said position and job title dictate the vector HR takes when interacting with various workplace staff.  

12. HR focuses on nitpicky issues instead of real problems

I know someone from HR who always clamors about employees not following a dress code or failing to don official ID badges at work. While upholding certain policies is important, such trivial issues should not take precedence over real problems, like sagging employee morale or surging turnover.  

Employees hate HR because, at times, HR seems completely oblivious to an escalating problem while remaining super-attentive to nitpicking and nagging over minor issues. 

While these dozen HR “do-wrongs” can distress and discourage (and perpetuate HR’s tarnished reputation), cheer up, Bucko! Its reputation rehabilitation can begin today with these three simple steps:  

1. Focus on the people

Putting people at the heart of every HR practice is a great way to rid HR of its dastardly stigma. To succeed, HR should spend more time with employees, create a sense of belonging in the workplace and champion the cause of the majority.  

Appreciation and recognition are also key. It is human nature to want to be valued. And seeing HR leading these efforts will elicit the workforce respect it rightfully deserves. Just be careful — employee appreciation must be based on merit. 

 “Employees engage with employers and brands when they’re treated as humans.” – Meghan Biro 

Focusing on people also means that HR must communicate clearly and effectively the wishes of the employees to top management. With diligence, HR reps should keep both the regular workforce and management in check. If the management passes down orders that are clearly deleterious to employees (such as salary and benefit cuts), HR should investigate the revised policy and prepare to advocate on behalf of the staff, if warranted.  

More than anything else, employees want their HR to be objective and fair. 

2. Focus on increasing competence

Employees look to HR as their guide and voice in the workplace. Incompetent HR reps are a turnoff. HR directors should focus on training their staffs to better serve the company’s employees. 

HR reps should not be random people pulled from accounting or other teams in the company. They should have HR skills, educational background and experience. In short, they should know what they are doing.

“(HR) isn’t a thing we do. It’s the thing that runs our business.” –  Steve Wynn 

HR is not just about paperwork. An HR rep should also be well equipped to develop an HR strategy that’ll drive the business forward. With more time and by not nitpicking employees on trivial matters, HR can focus on big-picture plans of the entire employee journey, such as:  

  • Developing training programs for employees to reach their full potential 
  • Engaging employees 
  • Creating competitive compensation 
  • Developing methods to reward and retain hard working employees 
  • Developing best practices in measuring employee performance 

3. Streamline processes using HR technology

Employees are tired of paperwork and complicated workflows. With Millennials now making up more than 50% of the current workforce, HR has no choice but to embrace technology to meet both employee and business expectations. 

And that’s a good thing.   

With technology, HR can simplify time-consuming processes like employee onboarding, timesheets, scheduling, expenses, etc.  

Technology is HR’s friend. And with all the advances we enjoy today, HR tech is no longer limited to standalone or cloud-based applications. Artificial Intelligence and chatbots assist HR in every way possible — whether with recruiting, training employees, benefits enrollment, answering common questions, or performing annual reviews. 

For instance, CakeHR’s Slackbot uses AI to assist employees in filing and processing leave requests. With this app, employees can book any time off from Slack, check policy balances, and see who is out of the office during the day — all without interrupting a single HR rep in the office!  

I firmly believe that when HR, AI and employees work together, HR bots and your HR team can revolutionize your business, lessen bureaucracy, and grant your employees greater autonomy.  

Of course, the greatest benefit of streamlined processes is acquiring TIME. With more time, HR can focus on what matters most to the employees and the business.   

If I can change and you can change, everybody can change.” – Rocky Balboa 

Despite the negative stigma that HR has gained over the past decades, it still can change – for the best. By focusing on people, increasing its core competencies, and using technology to streamline its processes, HR will eventually earn the respect it’s been yearning for.  

Norberts Erts is the co-founder of HR software company CakeHR, that streamlines attendance and performance management for customers worldwide. He keeps a sharp eye on HR, marketing, business, finance, science, technology and the connections between them. Connect with Norberts on Twitter and LinkedIn. 

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